Friday, October 28, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: It’s Not a Hippie Thing

Occupy Wall Street: It’s Not a Hippie Thing

For all its social snootiness, Wall Street has suffered far more from the meddling of members of its own class than from intrusions by those outside it. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt, an aristocrat, who held the lords of finance responsible for the Great Depression—securing legislation to establish the Securities and Exchange Commission, asserting federal authority over the stock exchange, and appointing a wealthy stock trader, Joseph Kennedy Sr., to ride herd. Not much better, from Wall Street’s perspective, was FDR’s Cousin Teddy, who as President prosecuted trusts as illegal monopolies. Or Louis Brandeis, a Harvard-trained corporate attorney turned crusader against the concentration of wealth and power.

These men changed the system from within, as have the ablest regulators in recent times. Arthur Levitt Jr., a vigorous SEC chairman under President Bill Clinton, was first the president of Shearson Hayden Stone. (Levitt is a member of the board of Bloomberg L.P., owner of Bloomberg Businessweek.) Paul A. Volcker cut his teeth at Chase Manhattan before running the Federal Reserve and becoming the gruff animating voice behind the Volcker Rule, which bans commercial banks from engaging in proprietary trading. It’s hard to imagine any of these “opponents” of Wall Street mounting a barricade. They didn’t need to storm the castle to know where the secrets were hidden.

In its very amateurism, Occupy Wall Street represents something new. Although it’s attracted some celebrities and well-heeled supporters, participants come chiefly from outside Wall Street. Many are unemployed or poorly employed. These are not bankers or reform-minded professors; these are also-rans in the capitalist race, upset with the system itself. Their chief weapon is neither eloquence nor argument, but their physical presence.

As critics have noted, the protesters are not in complete agreement with each other, but the overall message is reasonably coherent. They want more and better jobs, more equal distribution of income, less profit (or no profit) for banks, lower compensation for bankers, and more strictures on banks with regard to negotiating consumer services such as mortgages and debit cards. They also want to reduce the influence that corporations—financial firms in particular—wield in politics, and they want a more populist set of government priorities: bailouts for student debtors and mortgage holders, not just for banks.

In its grassroots and leftist character, Occupy Wall Street bears a superficial resemblance to protests from the ’60s and early ’70s. But the Woodstock Era was different in ways that tell us important things about the current siege. Then, radical students preached an affinity with the “working class,” but it was rare that the students and any members of the working class actually joined arms...

There are now protests flourishing around the country, including my hometown. Occupy Boston is at the foot of the financial district in Dewey Square, which is given over to scores of closely packed, brightly colored camping tents. On the same day I toured the site, Ben S. Bernanke visited the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, right across the street, though no one on the square seemed to know it. Nor did Bernanke wander over.

The message in Boston is the same as in New York, but with a more desperate edge. Stan Malcolm told me he had been working in flooring—an industry hit hard by the real estate slump—until 18 months ago, when his employer shut down. “There ain’t no work anywhere,” he said. Since then he has been doing day labor and eating at soup kitchens. I asked what he will do when the cold weather comes. Wasting not a syllable, he replied: “Bundle up.”

Occupy Wall Street: It’s Not a Hippie Thing

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jensen Farms Packing Operation Fatally Flawed

Jensen Farms Packing Operation Fatally Flawed

Industrial agriculture does it again!

"The nationwide outbreak of listeriosis, which has killed 25 people and sickened 98 others, is the first involving Listeria-contaminated whole cantaloupes."

Thoughts on American Capitalism

   I haven't posted anything here in a little while because I've been preoccupied with the Occupy Wall Street protest. Personally, I think it's high time Americans stood up and said, "We've had enough!" and I think it's great that the movement has gone global. Thomas Jefferson said, "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.", and, "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the Atmosphere." What's happening now is a good thing.

   I wanted to take some time today to offer some ideas on why this rebellion has risen up. I am in no way a spokesperson for any Occupy event/movement, so don't misunderstand, these are just the thoughts of one citizen.

   I believe far too many Americans believe that we have a capitalist economy. Far too many Americans believe we have a democracy. Both of these are false and I believe that the misperceptions of these two things have helped politicians to polarize party lines.

   The U.S. government was not founded as a democracy. The founding fathers did not trust the average citizen to not be taken in by a silver-tongued devil. Looking at the country and it's media today it could be argued that the founding fathers were ahead of their time. Democracies had been shown to be too chaotic to be sustainable so they set up a republic wherein we the people get to elect representatives to make decisions and run the country on our behalf. What that means for the average citizen is, if you are not satisfied with the way your representatives in government are running things, you need to communicate that to them and if they don't listen you need to elect someone who will. I know this is more work than most Americans want to do, but if you let the government run itself it will act in it's own best interest (as it has).

   (The good news is that this is much easier to do today than it has been in the past! I would recommend going to and signing up for updates on what your representatives are voting for and against. While you're at it look up some activist sites that concern themselves with things you care about and sign up with them. Many send out petitions and letters on key issues that you can sign and follow. Get your representatives' email addresses and phone numbers and contact them directly. Tell them what you want and ask for explanations if they don't do it. Keep them accountable!)

   Capitalism. Look around. This is not what Adam Smith had in mind. Before anyone starts quoting The Wealth of Nations out of context let me just remind everyone that Smith first wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments -- his own personally favored work -- and The Wealth of Nations was intended to be considered as the next chapter to The Theory of Moral Sentiment, not as a stand-alone piece.

   That said, do we really have a capitalist system where one person can build a business and thrive? In some cases, yes. In most cases, though, no and the odds are looking more and more like those on a lottery ticket. Assuming that one does have the resources and talent to build a business and make it successful, navigating through government regulations and personal and business litigation, that business will likely have to compete with one or more huge corporations that are likely deemed "too big to fail" by their board members in Washington D.C. The deck has been stacked and the game is not the same as it was in the late 1700's.

   I recently read an argument that if you took someone from the "rich 1%" and took away everything, they would not complain that they couldn't find a job, they would make their own job and create more jobs in the process. I feel this is oversimplified and that if you put this imaginary person into similar circumstances as the average American (i.e. school loans, children, hospital bills, auto repairs, etc.) the story might vary. But let's assume it's absolutely true. Why should we be content with a system that rewards a single talent on the backs of those with other talents? I know some people who are very good at business. I know more people who have had businesses that either failed or never fully supported them. Most of the people I know are very good at things other than owning and operating a business. Why don't we reward the people who teach the next generation or farmers who create our food supply in the same way we reward someone who can find loopholes in the tax code, has a talent for stock speculation, or is willing to neglect their health and family for the almighty dollar? Isn't the person who drives a truck or the person who builds and maintains the road an important part of the distribution system on which many businesses are built?

   The fact that our transportation and energy systems have not really changed all that much in the past one hundred years is an indicator of how we have all become complacent. The system is antiquated and it's high time for an update. Our country needs a reboot. Two hundred and some years ago when the U.S. was being established there were those who believed we should be a simple, agrarian society and not be too involved in the world's affairs. Others wanted something that looked more like England's empire. When decisions were made, guess who came to the table?

   It's time for us all to show up to the table and make our voices heard.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City


Declaration of the Occupation of New York City
Posted on September 30, 2011 by NYCGA

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

Bill Maher On Ending Abusive Relationships - With Your Bank

Monday, October 3, 2011

Food And Climate Change

   This is an EXCELLENT article from Grain!!

Food and climate change: The forgotten link

GRAIN | 28 September 2011 | Against the grain

Food is a key driver of climate change. How our food gets produced and how it ends up on our tables accounts for around half of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Chemical fertilizers, heavy machinery and other petroleum-dependant farm technologies contribute significantly. The impact of the food industry as a whole is even greater: destroying forests and savannahs to produce animal feed and generating climate-damaging waste through excess packaging, processing, refrigeration and the transport of food over long distances, despite leaving millions of people hungry.

A new food system could be a key driver of solutions to climate change. People around the world are involved in struggles to defend or create ways of growing and sharing food that are healthier for their communities and for the planet. If measures are taken to restructure agriculture and the larger food system around food sovereignty, small scale farming, agro-ecology and local markets, we could cut global emissions in half within a few decades. We don’t need carbon markets or techno-fixes. We need the right policies and programmes to dump the current industrial food system and create a sustainable, equitable and truly productive one instead.

Food and climate: piecing the puzzle together

Most studies put the contribution of agricultural emissions – the emissions produced on the farm - at somewhere between 11 and 15% of all global emissions.[1] What often goes unsaid, however, is that most of these emissions are generated by industrial farming practices that rely on chemical (nitrogen) fertilizers, heavy machinery run on petrol, and highly concentrated industrial livestock operations that pump out methane waste.

The figures for agriculture's contribution also often do not account for its role in land use changes and deforestation, which are responsible for nearly a fifth of global GHG emissions.[2] Worldwide, agriculture is pushing into savannas, wetlands, cerrados and forests, plowing under huge amounts of land. The expansion of the agricultural frontier is the dominant contributor to deforestation, accounting for between 70-90% of global deforestation.[3] This means that some 15-18% of global GHG emissions are produced by land-use change and deforestation caused by agriculture. And here too, the global food system and its industrial model of agriculture are the chief culprits. The main driver of this deforestation is the expansion of industrial plantations for the production of commodities such as soy, sugarcane, oilpalm, maize and rapeseed.

Since 1990, the area planted with these five commodity crops grew by 38%[4] though land planted to staple foods like rice and wheat declined.

Emissions from agriculture account for only a portion of the food system's overall contribution to climate change. Equally important is what happens from between the time food leaves the farm until it reaches our tables.

Food is the world's biggest economic sector, involving more transactions and employing more people by far than any other. These days food is prepared and distributed using enormous amounts of processing, packaging and transportation, all of which generateGHG emissions, although data on such emissions are hard to find. Studies looking at the EU conclude that about one quarter of overall transportation involves commercial food transport[5] The scattered figures on transportation available for other countries, such as Kenya and Zimbabwe, indicate that the percentage is even higher in non-industrialised countries, where food production and delivery accounts for 60-80% of the total energy - human plus animal plus fuel – used.”[6]  With transportation accounting for 25% of global GHG emissions, we can use the EU data to conservatively estimate that the transport of food accounts for at least 6% of global GHG emissions. When it comes to processing and packaging, again the available data is mainly from the EU, where studies show that the processing and packaging of food accounts for between 10-11% of GHG emissions,[7] while refrigeration of food accounts for 3-4% [8]of total emissions and food retail another 2%.[9]

Playing it conservative with the EU figures and extrapolating from the scarce figures that exist for other countries, we can estimate that at least 5-6% of emissions are due to food transport, 8-10% due to food processing and packaging, around 1-2% due to refrigeration, and 1-2% due to retail. This gives us a total contribution of 15-20% of global emissions from these activities.

Not all of what the food system produces gets consumed. The industrial food system discards up to half of all the food that it produces, in its journey from farms to traders, to food processors, to stores and supermarkets. This is enough to feed the world’s hungry six times over.[10]  A lot of this waste rots away on garbage heaps and landfills, producing substantial amounts of greenhouse gases. Different studies indicate that somewhere between 3.5 to 4.5 of global GHG emissions come from waste, and that over 90% of them come from materials originating in agriculture and their processing.[11] This means that the decomposition of organic waste originating in food and agriculture is responsible for 3-4% of global GHG emissions.

Add the above figures together, factor up the evidence, and there is a compelling case that the current global food system, propelled by an increasingly powerful transnational food industry, is responsible for around half of all human produced greenhouse gas emissions: anywhere between a low of 44% to a high of 57%. The graph below illustrates the conclusion:

Turning the food system upside down

Clearly, we will not get out of the climate crisis if the global food system is not urgently and dramatically transformed. The place to start is with the soil.

Food begins and ends with soil. It grows out of the soil and eventually goes back in it to enable more food to be produced. This is the very cycle of life. But in recent years humans have ignored this vital cycle. We have been taking from the soil without giving back.The industrialisation of agriculture, starting in Europe and North America, replicating later through the Green Revolution in other parts of the world, was based on the assumption that soil fertility could be maintained and increased through the use of chemical fertilisers. Little attention was paid to the importance of organic matter in the soil.

A wide range of scientific reports indicate that cultivated soils have lost from 30 to 75% of their organic matter during the 20th century, while soils under pastures and prairies have typically lost up to 50%. There is no doubt that these losses have provoked a serious deterioration of soil fertility and productivity, as well as contributing to worsening droughts and floods.

Taking as a basis some of the most conservative figures provided by scientific literature, the global accumulated loss of soil organic matter over the last century may be estimated to be between 150 to 200 billion tonnes.[12] Not all this organic matter ended up in the air as CO2, as significant amounts have been washed away by erosion and have been deposited in the bottom of rivers and oceans.  However, it can be estimated that at least 200 to 300 billion tonnes of CO2 have been released to the atmosphere due to the global destruction of soil organic matter. In other words, 25 to 40% of the current excess of CO2 in the atmosphere comes from the destruction of soils and its organic matter.

There is some good news hidden in these devastating figures. The CO2 that we have sent into the atmosphere by depleting the world's soils can be put back into the soil. All that is required is a change of agricultural practices. We have to move away from practices that destroy organic matter to practices that build-up the organic matter in the soil.

We know this can be done. Farmers around the world have been engaging in these very practices for generations. GRAIN research has shown that, if the right policies and incentives were in place worldwide, soil organic matter contents could be restored to pre-industrial agriculture levels within a period of 50 years – which is roughly the same time frame that industrial agriculture took to reduce it.[13]  The continuing use of these practices would allow the offset of between 24-30% of  current global annual GHG emissions[14].

The new scenario would require a radical change in approach from the current industrial agriculture model. It would focus on the use of techniques such as diversified cropping systems, better integration between crop and animal production, increased incorporation of trees and wild vegetation, and so on. Such an increase in diversity would, in turn, increase the production potential, and the incorporation of organic matter would progressively improve soil fertility, creating virtuous cycles of higher productivity and higher availability of organic matter. The capacity of soil to hold water would increase, which would mean that excessive rainfall would lead to fewer, less intense floods and droughts. Soil erosion would become less of a problem. Soil acidity and alkalinity would fall progressively, reducing or eliminating the toxicity that has become a major problem in tropical and arid soils. Additionally, increased soil biological activity would protect plants against pests and diseases. Each one of these effects implies higher productivity and hence more organic matter available to soils, thus making possible, as the years go by, higher targets for soil organic matter incorporation. More food would be produced in the process.

To be able to do it, we would need to build on the skills and experience of the world's small farmers, rather than undermining them and forcing them off their lands, as is now the case.

A global shift towards an agriculture that builds up organic matter in the soil would also put us on a path to removing some of the other major sources of GHGs from the food system. There are three other mutually reinforcing shifts that need to take place in the food system to address its overall contribution to climate change: The first is a shift to local markets and shorter circuits of food distribution, which will cut back on transportation and the need for packaging, processing and refrigeration. The second is a reintegration of crop and animal production, to cut back on transportation, the use of chemical fertilisers and the production of methane and nitrous oxide emissions generated by intensive meat and dairy operations. And the third is the stopping of land clearing and deforestation, which will require genuine agrarian reform and a reversal of the expansion of monoculture plantations for the production of agrofuels and animal feed.

If the world gets serious about putting these four shifts into action, it is quite possible that we can cut global GHG emissions in half within a few decades and, in the process, go a long way towards resolving the other crises affecting the planet, such as poverty and hunger.  There are no technical hurdles standing in the way-- the knowledge and skills are in the hands of the world's farmers and we can build on that. The only hurdles are political, and this is where we need to focus our  efforts.

[1] The IPCC says 10-12%, the OECD says 14% and the WRI says 14.9%.  See:
- IPCC, Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change. Chapter 8: Agriculture,
- Wilfrid Legg and Hsin Huang. OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate, Climate change and agriculture,
- WRI, World GHG Emissions Flow Chart,
[2]    See: WRI, World GHG Emissions Flow Chart, And: IPCC. 2004. Climate Change 2001:  Working Group I: 3.4.2 Consequences of Land-use Change.
[3]    See FAO Advisory Committee on Paper and Wood Products – Forty ninth Session – Bakubung, South Africa, 10 June 2008; and M. Kanninen et al., "Do trees grow on Money? Forest Perspective 4, CIFOR, Jakarta, 2007.
[4] See: GRAIN, 'Global Agribusiness: two decades of plunder', in: Seedling, July 2010.
[5] see: Eurostat. From farm to fork - a statistical journey along the EU's food chain - Issue number 27/2011 and
[6]      FAO. Stephen Karekezi and Michael Lazarus,  Future energy requirements for Africa’s agriculture. Chapters 2, 3, and 4.
[7]     For EU, see: Viktoria BOLLA, Velina PENDOLOVSKA, Driving forces behind EU-27 greenhouse gas emissions over the decade 1999-2008. Statistics in focus 10/2011.
[8]     Tara Garnett and Tim Jackson, Food Climate Research Network, Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of SurreyFrost Bitten: an exploration of refrigeration dependence in the UK food chain and its implications for climate
[9]     S.A. Tassou, Y. Ge, A. Hadawey, D. Marriott. Energy consumption and conservation in food retailing. Applied Thermal Engineering 31 (2011) 147-156 AND Kumar Venkat. CleanMetrics Corp. The Climate Change Impact of US Food Waste
CleanMetrics Technical Brief. and Ioannis Bakas, Copenhagen Resource Institute (CRI). Food and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions.
[10] Tristram Stuart, “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal”, Penguin, 2009,
[11] Jean Bogner, et. al.  Mitigation of global greenhouse gas emissions from waste: conclusions and strategies from the IPCC. Fourth Assessment Report. Working Group III (Mitigation)
[12] Figures used for calculations were:
a) an average loss of 4,5- 6 kg of SOM/m2 of arable land and 2-3 kg of SOM/m2 of agricultural  land under prairies and not cultivated
b) an average soil depth of 30 cm, with an average soil density of 1 gr/cm3
c) 5000 million ha of agricultural land worldwide; 1800 million ha of arable land, as stated by FAO
d) a ratio of 1,46 kg of CO2 for each kg of destroyed SOM
[13] See: 'Earth matters: tackling the climate crisis from the ground up'. In: Seedling October 2009.
[14] The conclusion is based on the assumption that organic matter incorporation would reach an annual global average rate of  3.5 to 5 tonnes per hectare of agricultural land. For more detailed calculations, see: GRAIN, 'Earth matters: tackling the climate crisis from the ground up'. In: Seedling October 2009, table 2.